Review: 'Ethan the Meteor Hunter' for PC
Freeze time and manipulate the world with endless possibilities: build the solution YOU want where nothing is scripted and levels can be solved in multiple ways. When Super Meat Boy meets Braid, you may die repeatedly and enjoy it!
I'm certainly one for setting high bars and lofty goals for one's self, but the question is now installed. Did this game succeed in taking the best of Super Meat Boy and Braid and blending them together, or did it fall short? Let's dive right into it.
The Opening Cut Scene
I'm not someone who is easily confused. However, I was pretty baffled as to what was going on here. So Ethan was in his house. Some other rat rummages through his trash. He gets mad at him and comes out. A meteor strikes his house from the moon. The other rat laughs at his expense. Meanwhile Ethan gets powers from the meteor. Debris is about to fall on Ethan. In the pinch, Ethan learns he has telekinesis. Ethan drops the debris meant for him on the other rat laughing at him.
You may notice the former paragraph was choppy, fragmented and unclean. And I say to you, yes it is. It was to convey to you how the style and animation of this cutscene felt. The art was also not the greatest. The style did not really mesh with the rest of the game. I mean, I guess they were trying to establish why Ethan has these telekinetic powers, but most of the gameplay takes place in some cavern/sewer locale as opposed to this suburbian area.
If it was trying to answer questions it left me with more at the end. Questions such as why is he called a meteor hunter? Is he getting revenge on the meteors because they destroyed his house? Who is this other rat and why is he such a jerk?
I guess what I'm trying to say is this: I know it may seem like an opening cutscene is a requirement, but it would have been better served to just let the game do the talking here. Either have Ethan exposed to the meteor during the tutorial before having to use the telekinesis mechanic, or maybe just let it be. I know, I know, that sounds kinda scary, but this is a video game. We've had odder jumps of faith than a rat with telekinesis as something without explanation in-game.
I have sometimes complained how in-game prompts and tutorials will sometimes display buttons meant for other system's control schemes, with great disdain. Nothing is more aggravating than to be playing with a keyboard and mouse and then having a game tell you to use the square button. Like the game designer is telling you, this game wasn't meant for YOUR medium.
I will give the designers credit here on trying to figure out a way to avoid such frustrations. The tutorial prompts you on doing actions at certain times. However they just tell you, effectively "use the jump key to jump" or "use the grab key to grab". There's just one problem with this idea. What IS the key that performs these actions?
So I hit escape and learned the keys the old fashioned way. Isn't not referring to guides why we make tutorials in the first place? Worse yet, the "grab" key had two functions of which one I was aware. So I rebound the key under that assumption only to change it back when I realized why they bound it there in the first place later in the tutorial.
Not Quite as Advertised
The gameplay is an action/puzzle game. Emphasis on the slash. Unfortunately, in the first world which is as far as I played, it doesn't seem as if these two segments are blended all that well. You can tell what it was trying to go for. The action segments require precise jumps and timing so you could see the Super Meat Boy inspiration. When you get squished, burned or shot down you get up again and get up quickly. This makes it so you can try again. This part of the game wasn't too bad and emulated rather well.
The only issue I really had with the action segments was late in the first world. I forgot about the ability to slide down slopes by pressing the down key, mostly because it was so long since I had last used it, and there was no reminder. Spending 15 minutes beating your head against a wall because you forgot a necessary action can make you feel dumb, but it's also kind of a design issue. Make me slide more often than twice before a several level hiatus of flat platforms.
The puzzle segment was mostly a pause function where you can move objects (but only the ones they want you to move) around in space (but only within the confined area they allow you to) in order to solve puzzles, but mostly just to get past an obstacle or two.
Their blurb claims that the puzzles here are inspired by Braid. I would say it fell woefully short on this end of the spectrum. Especially since in another advertisement of the game they say "Solve it the way you want." First off, that's not a puzzle. If I hand you a Rubik's Cube and go "Solve it the way you want" and you then rip off the stickers and stick them back on, many will say that's not the way to solve it.
Luckily, with the constraints I mentioned earlier it is not the case that you can break a puzzle like that. You can only move the objects they want you to move in the space they want you to move them in. That not only makes Ethan's superpowers the most hilariously bureaucratic, but the constraints keep a challenge of their use in tact. So there are some good puzzles to be found here.
Good puzzles, not Braid puzzles.
Good puzzles are those you think of a solution, most of the times in pretty short order, do what you think and congratulations, you solved it! Great puzzles, the kind that Braid gave me, are multi-tier. You think of a solution in short order, do it, but it's not quite right. So you pause. You think more. You try plan B and get a little farther but something still goes wrong. So you pause, run through your actions again and again. Your ideas of solutions evolve over time and as you do so does your thinking. At the end of your ordeal you didn't just solve it; you feel accomplished! You can remember how stupid the you 10 minutes ago was for thinking so simply about the problem that your present self has mastered.
At no time in my playing of this game did I feel that sense of accomplishment. Only one puzzle tripped me up on the first go around. Sadly, by mentioning Braid, the blurb did itself no favors as it made me reflect on how this game's puzzles compared to Braid's. Which I probably would never have done on my own.
The action and style are decent, and the idea of moving objects to your whim to solve puzzles is a solid concept. Unfortunately I cannot praise the execution. Every now and again there would be a moment where the game started to gather steam. Unfortunately though, the flow of the game didn't blend the action and puzzle elements together as much as I would have liked, leaving a chunky mixture.
In the end the experience was so segregated between the Meat Boy inspired action segments and the Braid inspired puzzle segments, one wonders why I didn't just put Meat Boy on one screen, and Braid on the other and alternate between the two games for every level complete. It'd probably be a better overall experience.